We drove directly to Twizel the next morning, after a well deserved long lie and hearty breakfast. The night before I had found a Lord of the Rings tour in Twizel, to be honest it looked horrible, but it mentioned replica swords so I booked it for Aaron. This was our last day on the road where we could stop and do stuff, I wanted him to have a final memory. I just hoped it wasn’t as bad as I was dreading. I reserved a place online for the full 2 hour experience at noon, however I received a call from the tour operator in the morning saying that her son was ill and she couldn’t do the tour today. We certainly couldn’t stay another night in Twizel as the camper was due back tomorrow at 3pm, so we negotiated. We would do the 1 hour tour at 2pm today and she would refund me with the difference. At least it was something and she seemed happy to do so. I kept it a secret from Aaron as we drove to Twizel.

The road was straight without many bends, so we tore along in cruise mode for the first time in about a week. To our left, in the distance, lay the “other side” of the Southern Alps and on the right were gentle undulating hills covered in golden grass, which the low sun made shine. This was Rohan, it could be no other place, perfect for horses and only the sporadic smattering of trees.

As we drove into Twizel at around 11am, we still had a few hours to kill before the tour so we drove another 50k North to the Edmund Hillary Mountaineering Museum at the base of Mount Cook. The road to the mountain was stunning, made even more dramatic by the weather, thunder clouds rolled in and the heavens opened. Occasionally, I could make out high peaks farther down the valley road, but they were instantly swallowed up again. A grey lake lay to our right, as we wove around its edge, it would momentarily sparkle as the sun battled with the nimbus army high above. I was used to these flashes of rock and water in Scotland and didn’t become down hearted by not seeing much. They were tantalising, like the flash of a garter laced leg.

We reached the museum and visitors centre during a particularly heavy torrent of falling water, so we raced inside for cover, getting instantly soaked. Compared to Scottish rain, this was more like a warm shower, so we didn’t mind that much.

Inside we wandered around the various exhibits, journeying through the history of mountaineering and climbing New Zealand’s biggest mountain. Hillary had come here to train before his successful Everest summit bid in the 50’s. It was a really interesting (for me anyway) exhibition, but suffered as many of these mountain museums do with a lack of content. Once you have covered the basic, geological, weather, flora, fauna and human interference aspects of the mountains, there is little else. Very few species inhabit mountain terrains, only a handful of specialists, NZ mountaineering is relatively new compared to Europe and the geology isn’t much different to most other mountains. The Hillary angle was played out to it fullest and they managed to pad it all out. The centre itself was perhaps the most impressive aspect of the experience. It was Mauri-esque in its interior design and architecturally designed to make the most of the views, however today was not the best to test that.

While I watched a very hard hitting documentary on the regions mountain rescue team, Aaron found a kids area and set about completing a jigsaw. We then bought a couple of trinkets from the shop and returned to the van. As we left the wide plain, where several mountains converged to meet, the sun won through, cast aside the defeated clouds and gave us a glimpse of Mount Cook. We had seen it from Franz Josef the other day and instantly recognised the majestic shape. With few exceptions, nearly all mountains are impressive if they are dressed in the correct light and Cook was no exception. It was a proper pointy mountain, black and white granite and snow. The clouds wisped and caressed it’s flanks, paying it service as the master.

The lake, now on our left, went from silvery grey to an impossible CGI azure. as we travelled along the transformation completed and it really did succeed in taking your breath, even Aaron commented on it. I stopped to take some pictures, after a downfall, when the sun wins, the clouds act erratically as they try to flee. They break up and scatter, only to run into each other in confusion, while the sun continues to rip them apart. This is the best time for photographs, as the contrasts are the most dynamic. The azure lake gave the composition an ethereal quality, it didn’t look real, more like an over enthusiastic Photoshop job.

We got back to Twizel and met up with the tour guide eventually, after much to-ing and fro-ing. She was a big bubbly sort who obviously believes in faeries and enjoys their company on a regular basis. I think she went by the name of Heidi, but her enthusiasm swept her name away to a land far, far away. This was going to be good for kids I thought.

We jumped into her mini-bus and as we bounced and bobbed along, the vehicle was obviously being fuelled solely using Heidi power, she told us all about Twizel and it’s connection to the trilogy. It had been the location where they filmed Osgiliath and Pelennor fields and several other important scenes. The 4000 or so company had camped in the town for 72 days, the longest shoot on the entire project and had utilised most of the town and a local army barracks to man the Orc army. We drove into a field, that was chosen for its lack of modern protrusions and along the “famed” movie track, left by the production on the farmers request. This was unusual as Jackson demands that the areas he uses be returned exactly as they left them, without exception. Hobbiton obviously being a massive exception.

In the back of her bus, Heidi had DVD screens and showed how the landscape we were sitting in was used in the films. She would pause the footage and then point out the backgrounds outside our windows. The most obvious being the bit where grandad rides to Osgiliath, across the field we were sitting in and his staff lights up, as he speeds forward. She also provided poorly printed sheets that showed how the various backgrounds were composited at a Weta Digital, explaining the basics of digital compositing. Some of her facts were wrong, but I bit my lip, Aaron seemed enthralled by it all though. While I was silently, correcting her lack of technical coherence in my head, Aaron was marching across the fields of Pellenor, against the Witch King of Angmar and his vast army. He was striding forward, wearing the armour of Gondor, rallying his men to stand up against the fearsome fell beasts, shields and spears shining in the sun. He was starting to run, drawing his sword as he did, giving out a battle cry and imagining the great tales of his deeds that he would tell his mate Alan when he got back home.

He was also telling Hiedi all about the subtle plot nuances in the particular scenes she was pointing out. She seemed impressed by his knowledge, as was I. He had even brought the one ring to show her… We jumped out of her minibus and she opened her boot to an assortment of weapons and costumes, Aaron’s eyes went as big as Gollum’s. At first he seemed resistant to the costumes, but after we planted a Gondorian steel helmet on his bonce, he was soon trying on everything, striking poses and taking on the characters. He even got me to take part. The highlight seemed to be the Witch Kings sword though, he donned the mask and cloak (ridiculously big on him) and wielded the massive sword in a autumn collection of catalogue poses. Finally, he popped his wee head into the massive Gollum mask and produced the one ring from his pocket, his overall sincerity and seriousness made the whole escape even more comical, but I played along as this was his hour.

On the way back Heidi asked him if he could keep a secret and announced she was going to be in the Hobbit. Aaron’s jaw dropped once he realised that he was in the presence of a “real” hobbit. I could definitely see her as one. We left Heidi the Hobbit and went into Twizel to find some pizza, we happened to find Shawty’s Cafe and the best pizza’s in the Southern hemisphere. Aaron had an amazing Hawaiian while I had one topped with lamb and yoghurt. Stuffed, we drove to a nearby holiday park and rented out The Dark Knight for our evenings entertainment. It was dark early, being Autumn and not much to do, so I cracked open a bottle of wine and Aaron cracked open a carton of orange and mango juice and settled down to our last night in the camper. I was going to miss The Great White Shark and all it’s trappings.

Aaron mentioned that today had been the second best bit about the whole trip, Hobbiton was still his favourite.

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On the Turning Away

Today was a travel day, I had made the decision to continue South as we had done everything we wanted yesterday afternoon. The original plan was to reach the glaciers, rest up then do all the activities today, stay another night and then travel back the way we came. I hated he idea of returning by way we came, it seemed pointless and I wanted to see more. I discussed it with Aaron and he seemed up for seeing new stuff, so we got the maps out and made a plan.

We decided to head South, as far as Wanaka near Queenstown. We we then head North to Twizel. This was another Lord of the Rings location, most notably for the Osgiliath and Pellenor Fields scenes. It was the longest shoot on the trilogy, so there should be something to experience there. From there we were to head to the East Coast and up to Christchurch. As long as the camper was returned by Saturday at 3pm, all would be fine. There was a little leeway in the plan, so I was confident. Today though, would be a long day of travelling.

The coastal highway had much the same score on the impressivometer as before and we stopped on a couple of occasions to have a walk around. Unfortunately, the sand flies we’re waiting in abundance, so we didn’t stay long at each location. I particularly enjoyed a place called Shipwreck Beach, it was straight out of a pirate movie. It had a rest area with a viewing tower which we climbed. A fantail followed us back to the camper, occasionally dancing up in front of us in a spluttering hover – Zippity Do Dah. I tried to catch it on camera, but it was near impossible. Don’t you just love it when animals play?

We stopped at a beach called Brian’s Beach (I think?) which was lined by thousands of white quartz stones of various sizes and shapes, each one had a message scrawled on it by passing travellers. The messages were also scattered in various piles across the beach and in amongst the driftwood. It was a nice thing in a nice place. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a pen.

By the time we reached Wanaka, I realised that we weren’t going to make Twizel that day, so we headed North, aiming to reach another town called Osarama by nightfall. It was only 50km away and we would get there comfortably. As we left Wanaka, I realised that we were on the way home again. We were on the turning away finally and that left me with a slightly heavy heart. Everything South of this point would have to wait for a return visit, if that were at all possible. The journey from now on would be the beginning of the return to Scotland.

We reached the town and found a camper park easily. It had a heated spa, so we went for a dip before making dinner. I was pretty tired and the large glass of wine helped me to unwind a little too much, it was a struggle to make food. Aaron helped out and we were soon ready for bed. It had been a long day of travelling, during which Aaron had watched the full 4 hour version of The Return of the King. It was great not to have squabbles and whinging constantly and when he did bring his head up from the iPad, he was very good company. Aaron seems to thrive when there isn’t competition from his big brother and is a joy to be around. I hoped that when the two of them met up again in a couple of days time, absence would have made both hearts grow fonder.

I slept fitfully, my dreams where of Scotland, finding work and financial concerns and I didn’t like them much.

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Michelle was up first and went down for a pre-child awakening stroll. She discovered that the beach was full to the rim with small perfectly formed pebbles. One of them had a natural hole caused by a seam of silicate chipping away and revealing a small passageway to the other side. Ironically, this was her last beach and final day of proper travelling. She was elated and told our sleepy and seemingly disinterested heads the news. We mumbled our congratulations and blearily studied her new found anomaly. She announced that her mission was accomplished and hobbled off to find the showers.

Greymouth was a ghost town as we drove to the railway station. It was Anzac Day, so everything was closed. Michelle and Jacob booked their tickets and we said our farewells, leaving them with both scooters, on the platform. We jumped into the cockpit and turned The Great White Shark south and off we roared catching the tail of a Southwesterly.

The road turned inland again and we said goodbye to the coast as we hit warmer forest air. The road also began to rise again and I got the distinct feeling that we were heading in the right direction and towards the glaciers. Another aspect of the journey I had noticed ever since Lake Taupo on North Island was that the further South we headed, the more everything began to wear its Autumn catalogue. The more South we ventured the thicker it got, from the scattered odd tree up North to tall golden geyser Poplars, frozen by the coming fall. Line after line of them, blazing yellow on each horizon we entered. The world around us had become mottled as it slowly died at the hands of Winters Autumnal brush. Strange to think that we would have two Autumns this year.

We reached the Franz Joseph glacier park early afternoon and went straight to a cafe for breakfast, we were both starving and ordered big meals. Afterwards we shopped the very short High Street for glacial experiences, but couldn’t find the exact one we wanted. While we contemplated whether we wanted to do a glacial hike, helicopter ride, quad biking (unfortunately not on the glacier) or a combo heli-hike I drove up to the glacier park and we walked to the glacier to see it from the ground. The hike took 1.5hours, there and back again and was all on the flat, which helped with Aaron as he is not one for walking much.

The beginning of the path took us through a short section of rainforest before spilling onto a vast glacial plain laced with small streams. Sizeable boulders and rocks lay everywhere, ground up by the receding ice. At the far end lay the glacier itself, blue and white, pouring over a ridge and down into a steep valley. It looked much smaller than its European cousins such as the Mer Du Glac√© at Mont Blanc, but I couldn’t see what lay above the ridge.

An impressive series of waterfalls fell from a sharp sharks fin buttress to our right, crystal clear glacial water bounced down its flat surface into a noisy pool. At the end of the path, we were still a long way from the moraines which terminate the glacier, which was a bit disappointing. A large gravel rock fall obscured much of the ice. Warning signs and newspaper cuttings were pinned to a board telling us of some idiot who had died trying to get a closer look and had been crushed by a serac collapsing. So we observed from a distance.

By the time we got back to the camper I had made up my mind what we were going to do. Back in town, which is only one street lined with pubs and tour companies, we went into a shop and booked a helicopter ride. I had never been in one before and thought it was time to give it a shot. They even agreed to take Aaron half price, since it was the end of their season. We had half an hour to wait so we grabbed a drink in a local tavern before heading down to the helicopter landing pad. Two Indian tourists were fannying about and we had to wait for them to go to their hotel and get stuff, which upset the tour guide a little. The weather had broken and their was sun spilling out onto the glacier, which we could see from where we were standing. Up to that point a thick flag had descended and had sat there all afternoon, threatening to obscure any ice we may be flying over. I was getting impatient waiting on the couple as well, especially when they appeared at the top of the street and slowly ambled down, window shopping as they went. The guide had to shout at them to hurry up.

We were given a brief safety talk before we jumped on board. As the Indians had been so annoying, they sat in the back, while Aaron and I got the best seats in the front. Headphones on and we were off, shooting across farmland, forest and foothills. There was affair amount of turbulence, but hat just added to the fun. Aaron was grinning like an idiot as we ascended through a patch of low cloud and the glacier came into full view below us. The moraines and seracs looked tiny, but I knew that the small ones were as big as double decker buses and the biggest must have been the size of 20 storey buildings. The crevices went from white to royal blue to black, thousands of deadly traps moving like a slow sea down the mountain. It was difficult to imagine that this massive, multi-million ton slab of ice was more liquid than solid, carving it’s own valley as it went. I would have liked to have seen it at its peak, before it had started to recede back up the mountain, when it had been at its most magnificent and filled the valley it had cut. The glacier was still moving at anywhere between 1 to 7 metres every day, sadly melting at the same time as crawling forward with its immense weight, a shadow of its formal self. The glacier runs from top to bottom for 7.5km to a height of 300m above sea level. What makes it remarkable and very alluring is that it is also flanked by temperate rainforest. The contrast is striking, only in South America can you find similar environments.

We circled Franz Joseph (named after the Austrian Emperor by the German explorer Julius Von Haast in 1865) then flew up to the ice plateau at the top and landed. Aaron jumped out above the clouds and grabbed a handful of snow, formed it into a ball and lobbed it at me. In the background, only a few hundred metres above us was the summit of several mountains, including Mount Cook. The sky was crystal blue, all the clouds lay below us like a huge white carpet, perfectly still. This was the highest Aaron had ever been in his life, with the exception of aircraft. We were standing at a height of approx 2700m on a moving ice field which spanned a 20km area. Life was good.

We hopped back in the helicopter and flew to the Fox Glacier, only a few kilometres away. Fox is much longer than Franz Joseph and just as impressive, but we didn’t spend nearly as long there to appreciate it properly. We did a quick circle then shot back down the valley. The sun was very low but bright, making the land below dramatic. The forest cast long shadows and the high volcanic lakes shone like chrome with rivulets of mercury forming arteries on the broad flood plains. The rest was filled in with cartoon green and Autumn golds. As we left the mountainside a curtain of billowing cloud sealed shut behind us and the glacier was veiled once more.

As Aaron and I walked away from the helicopter, we were smiling.

The night fell quickly back at the park, so I hurried a meal and we lay in bed watching a crap Will Ferrell movie. Aaron with his juice and cookies and me with my white wine. It had been a good day…

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Posted: May 5, 2012 by johnwilkie in new zealand
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The road back over Takaka Hill wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated, mainly due to it being in daylight. It also seemed to take half the time because; a) I had done it before, b) I could see and c) It was the start of the journey and not the end. It was a bit worrying seeing what we had come through two nights before, the height was especially alarming.

Once the road regained its level flatness again, I could concentrate on my surroundings again. Mile after mile of the roadside was occupied by vineyards, orchards and berry fields; kiwi fruits, apple, pears and grapes were the dominate businesses. I know Michelle had wanted to see around an orchard, so we stopped to have a wander around. We chose one where we could park easily and since no-one seemed to be around we wandered through the hundreds of trees, marvelling at their abundance of fruit. Red apples clustered every branch on every avenue of trees. Huge pears caught the sunlight and shone golden, their leaves shimmering. The grapes had mostly been plucked, but there were a few bunches left hanging, nearly too ripe and loaded with sugars. You could almost taste the wine in them. Windfall lay everywhere, all red, gold and green. The floor resemble led a child ball pit, multi coloured polka dots against the emerald grass.

Jacob didn’t want to come out and see the fruit, instead he stayed in the van to listen to rap. Aaron loved it all though, either because there was a promise of free fruit or because he loved the idea of reaching up and having his unlimited choice. We bought two big bags of pears and apples from an unmanned counter (there was a slot in the wall where we were asked to pay) for ¬£2 ($4). Again, I was impressed by the trust factors at play here, which seemed to be common place in New Zealand. However, I do think that an orchard run by Michelle would be wilder and with a less commercial lay out.

Time was against us today as we wanted to be in Greymouth before dark, so we continued our journey SE towards the West coast. We were soon in familiar territory, twisting through mottled tones of green, climbing through tree laden rainforest, and winding down through deep valleys. Everything was smothered in trees again with little sign of human presence. We stopped at a roadside rest area with a large stone and plaque telling the story of the ground directly below us. It was the site of an old hardware store called Dizzy’s that had operated until relatively recently there. It had been operational for 100 years, though there was no sign of it anymore. A ghost of the old west. Once the boys had become tired of climbing the big boulder we headed off again.

We made another stop, the sign declared it New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, so we stopped to test this claim. I wandered ahead, while the boys jacked out of their iPod universes, to find out what the fuss was all about. I returned announcing that Michelle should bring her purse. There was the possibility of jet boating over rapids, a chair slide across a ravine, being flown over the ravine on a spot line (the Superman), as well as walking across the steel swing bridge. The area was a large gold mining colony for years, before an earthquake pretty much put an end to the panning and mining activities. Heavier mining had taken place also, old rusted diggers and lorries from a bygone era were slowly being corroded and strangled by the jungle. There is something very satisfying about nature reclaiming its own. I love the contrast of rust and foliage, cracked concrete split by roots and rooftop saplings.

The river was a deep jade broken only by near white smooth rock, contorted by the force of water, wind and tectonics. The bounced across the swing bridge like drunks, high above the river then followed a 15 minute walk in a circle back to the chair zip. On the way we stopped at a beautiful rock outcrop that the river wrapped around. The rock looked like limestone and had been smoothed and folded by the river. It reminded me of Gaudi for some reason.

The walk was short and pleasant, with info boards telling us about the mining and earthquakes that had affected the area. The north side of the river never use to have a cliff face, this was raised instantly by an earthquake a few years ago, staggering fact.

The return across the river involved being strapped into a seat and flying over the river at speed, on a wire line. All good fun.

As suddenly as it had disappeared all those hours ago, the coastline reappeared and with a vengeance. A golden haze filled the air and the light torquoise shallows through up staggeringly beautiful ship wrecking rocks. Beaches strewn with driftwood, golden a nd white danced with the white crested waves. The tide flowed in and out, giving and taking at the same time as the haze blurred the lines between sea and sand. The tropical palms, now dominant, threatened to march into the ocean, their mad feathered hats crowing their faceless smooth heads. This was the most beautiful coastline I had ever seen.

We stopped at Punakaiki, which I think means “pancake rock”. Jacob got instantly ravenous at this translation. Unfortunately it was named after the geological features of the region and not the culinary options. Far off to the West, the Sun was being drowned by the Sea and it reflected everywhere in the water. The rocks did indeed look like stacked pancakes, with green honey foliage. The ever present Shag nested sporadically and easily amongst the many pancake folds. These rocks had character and each section had a name, suggested and accepted in Maori. You could make out faces, animals and shapes in the formations. We were told by an information board that the waves hitting the formations created a cacophony of blow holes. It only happens at around 1pm (so we had missed it) and is amazing, like natures wind section.

The limestone formations were formed when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay. These seabeds were then forced to the surface by tectonic action. When the sea is just right and under currents are at their fiercest the water is forced through eroded caves below the formations and sent skywards like a jet, many metres into the air. At the time we were there, the sea was calm and collected.

We meandered through the legions of Japanese lenses, all content on shooting and not really looking. Comments from us snappers to each other Made me realise that we may be suffering from lens envy.

We reached Greymouth after dark and pulled into another Top 10 park. Apparently it was close to a beach but we couldn’t see it, only feel it. We ate our last supper in a nice little restaurant across from the park, recommended to us by the park keeper. Michelle sorted out Jacob and her own bags for their journey tomorrow. I knew I would miss them but at the same time I knew it was the right thing to do. Kudos to Michelle for thinking of it.

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Back again…

Posted: May 2, 2012 by michellecassidywilkie in new zealand

Dear Callie, Georgia, Darragh, Christopher, James and all friends…

The train from Christchurch went through some lovely countryside and coastal routes and may have been relaxing but for Hoddit and Doddit moaning and bickering! Aargh, I felt sorry for the other passengers having to listen to them and then listen to them get into trouble!! So I did t he only thing I could do, listen to my own wee iPod, and the scenery raced by to the sound of Mumford and Son’s and The Police. The next part of the journey was spent in a tiny plane ( only 12 passengers!) flying from the South to the North Island, it was not a pleasant journey even though it was only 25 minutes long, but there was a lot of turbulence. Of course Jacob was in the front with the pilot full of chat, whilst Aaron sat at the back with Jon. ( I sat by myself with my eyes closed! I’m sure it must have been a very nice view )
Anyway, we arrived safely in Wellington and I’m glad to say the scooters were no problem, even on the tiny plane, ha!
We waited around a while for the next plane to Auckland and arrived there on Sunday night, straight to the Novotel in the airport, a very fancy affair for us! but because it was our last night we had booked a double room each, with adjoining doors.
The boys were in their element! Room service, mini bar, plasma tv’s, huge big comfy beds and walk in showers! Like I said, it was our last night, back to beans on toast for the foreseeable future! and now here we are on the last plane home from Dubai, only 7hrs before landing back home.

So, what did I think of it all, what was the best points about New Zealand?
Was it the constant sunshine, a rare thing for a Scot, the friendliness of the people, the stunning beaches and crystal clear waters. Was it seeing the stars every night and swimming in warm thermal pools, trying out new wines, seeing vineyards and orchards? Was it Hobbiton or Mount Doom, the search for the Holey stone, kayaking? I’d have to say it was all those things and more. It was a marvellous experience and I know how lucky we were to have it, but what did I miss?

I missed chatting to Sis and updating her on ‘Ma Daddie’ and all the weekly goings on ( although Ma Daddie’s been spoiled rotten in Ireland! ) I missed my morning walks with the girls and the dogs and our blethers! I missed walking and cycling and going up Campsie Glen with my Aunt Josie.
I missed trying to catch up with my friends, which is difficult to arrange with shifts and children to consider! I missed seeing the Campsies from my window and my coal fire and candles…and you, my tin men, lions and scarecrows I missed you all, and so with a click of my ruby red slippers I close my eyes and say…there’s no place like home…

With the Brightest of Beltane Blessings and thanks for following us,

M.x

In the Jailhouse now…

Posted: May 2, 2012 by michellecassidywilkie in new zealand

Dear Callie,Georgia,Darragh,Christopher,James and all friends…

Next morning we were up and away at 10am after saying our goodbyes and thankyou’s to Bruce and Sue. Jon had booked a night at an old jailhouse motel for what should have been our last night in Christchurch. It was a cool old building, more church like than jailhouse, though the ‘cells’ were pretty real. It had been used as a jail up until 1999 when it closed. (lack of criminals? I like to think so ) and had been converted into a hostel which seemed to be a hit with backpackers.

We left our stuff and found a great place called The Co op Cafe, Addingtons, which was a really cool place. It had been an old petrol station and garage and had been converted into a hip organic, fair trade cafe with a little fair trade shop run by another Kiwi called Bruce, who was a particularly Ent like and friendly guy ( Ents are the tree like characters in Lord of The Rings for those of you who aren’t in the know! )
I could imagine having a place like this and The Jailhouse, I could work in the shop and be the fair trade person, Jon could run the Hostel, Andrew would be in charge of food and the cafe and Jill would do the business side of things, you guys (Callie, Christopher and James, along with Jacob and Aaron could help out at the weekend…) any takers of this idea? If so, ideas on paper and we’ll discuss it when we see you!

We returned to the hostel and Jacob met some local kids to hang out with as they lived beside it, I sat outside writing ( in the sunshine ) and Jacob scooted around with his new friends. We were waiting for the arrival of Jon and Aaron who pulled up in a taxi around 2pm after cleaning the campervan and handing it back. ( hee hee!)
Jon was impressed by the building ( I think he fancy’s owning a similar place back home too!) and took load’s of pictures while Jacob introduced his brother to his new mates.
We returned to the Co op Cafe to impress the guys with our cool find and had some late lunch and really the rest of the day was spent doing our own thing.
The boys out and about with their mates, me writing and Jon sorting his pictures out to show us. They’d had a great time going to the glaciers and Jon had taken Aaron on a ‘Lord of The Rings’ tour where he got to see the weapons used in the film and try on the costumes, check out the photo of him dressed as The Witch King, wicked!

We had to be up at 6am so Jon and I tried to get an early night in the cell next to the boys, who decided to stay up and watch a film…by midnight Jon was sleeping soundly and I could hear a lot of commotion, even through the thick cell walls and metal doors…yep, you’ve guessed, brotherly love reigns once more.
On inspection ( we had the key to their room which was locked by them from the inside ) Aaron was jumping around the bed like a demented Hobbit, and Jacob was going apeshit at him! ( who’s idea was it to let them share a room? )
a few choice words and hisses from me with a warning that I would wake their father up if they didn’t settle down, I left them to contemplate the outcome of that should it arise.
5.30 came and Jon and I got up fairly quickly, getting the darling cherubs to wake up and get up proved more difficult, well Jacob anyway, honestly he’s like Rumplestiltskin when he finds out the Princess has found out his name! but we managed it anyway and got to the station on time for our next leg of the journey back again…

Bright Blessings for now,

M.x

Today was Michelle’s day, so we all came along for the ride. Kayaking was the order of the day and it was a prefect day for it. Before breakfast I went down to have a look at “our” beach, which was an interesting mixture of perfectly formed pebbles, black sand and driftwood. I have a real love of driftwood and could spend hours collecting and examining it. Maybe it’s because it’s a completely natural process of weathering, moulding and drying out. Nature is the artist and there are none better, for nature has the ultimate patience. It’s finishing is second to none.

On Parakai beach there was an unprecedented amount of art scattered everywhere, from massive trunks to fragile tiny twigs, all moulded, all works in progress. I could have spent a lifetime combing these beaches, using nature as inspiration for pieces of art.

The sea was mottled aquamarine and turquoise with only the gentlest of motion. We headed in the camper a few kilometres to Golden Beach Kayaks and hired a couple of kayaks for two hours. After a quick safety briefing we paired up and got into our skirts and life jackets. Aaron was in the front with me and Jacob headed up Michelle’s kayak. I have never used a rudder before in a canoe and it made the whole experience much easier, especially with Aaron’s erratic paddling.

We were soon off and Aaron soon found his rhythm, though it did lack consistency, the wee man did very well. We hugged the jagged coiffed coast then crossed a narrow passage to a small island that was the host to a colony of Shags. Beautiful birds that reminded me of cormorants and as noisy as fish wives. They were particularly clumsy on land but in the air and in the sea they were graceful. Occasionally they would swoop down from their vantage points to take a closer look at the weird monkeys paddling by. As with all birds in New Zealand the seemed to be fearless of humans and often came very close to the kayaks. The smell of Shag guano is pretty pungent though and it hit us in wafts as the wind died and the sun heated it up.

We crossed to another Island a few hundred metres from the first, both are the only limestone islands in the National Park. Fact.

We then rejoined the coast and hugged it for the rest of the journey, it was so relaxing and tranquil, good for the soul. Aaron started singing a Viking rowing song, obviously living the moment and making associations in his wee mind. We rowed in between scattered rocks and formations, all wearing white foam garlands as the waves lapped up against them. We rounded Abel Tasmin Point and found a good spot to beach and let the boys out for a swim. Jacob and Aaron claimed it in the Wilkie name and set about exploring it’s beach and surrounding vegetation. Jacob found some berries and despite our warnings, smeared them on his face and starting a made up tribal chant. Aaron was happiest in the water, guddling about. Small silver fish flashed in the sunlight and a jellyfish wobbled by, trapped in the current.

I discovered a small cave and went to explore. It went a few metres back before the passage reduced to a few feet in height. I didnt have a torch so didn’t venture any further. Dotted around the lichen and moss which carpeted the walls were the beginnings of calcium deposits, rich in iron as their colour suggested. I found glow worm fishing lines, gently waving in the breeze, primed to lure prey to an untimely end. All was a hush in the cave, so I sat down and soaked the silence in, meditating on the seemingly far away lap lapping of the water outside.

Back out in the noisy sunshine, Michelle was anxious to get back on the water so we loaded Jacob into her kayak, she got in and we launched her back out to sea. Aaron and I followed soon after and as the other two headed back around the coast, Aaron and I headed out to a small rock formation, top heavy with vegetation. We were told there was an archway we could go through and pretty soon it was in view. A high arch, cut by the sea out of the living rock. We paddled furiously towards it as we were going against the waves. We reached the entrance but were pushed back and spun around. We paddled in a wide arc and re-aimed the Kayak at the opening. The sea had picked up momentum now and the waves were breaking all around, there was a westerly blowing in.

We attacked the archway again, fighting the surge. Once we were directly under the gap we went up a gear, Aaron pushing us from the rocks while I steered and provided forward thrust. We emerged at the other side like a broken dragon, coughing and spluttering against the force of the water. I was knackered, but we did it and we’re elated that it hadn’t beaten us.

We were a little away from the coast and the waves had risen again, they were raising our flank and making us lurch. We paddled furiously through the white breakers, dodging rocks as we went. Michelle and Jacob came into view, so we used them as incentive to paddle harder and beat them to the beach. Nothing like a bit of competition to focus the mind.

I would say it was a draw, or would have been if the other two hadn’t missed the landing by 20 to 30 metres. For some reason the continued along the beach and would have gone further if we hadn’t shouted over. Of course Aaron was elated and jumping up and down, it means a lot to beat your big brother.

We returned to the campsite and went to find someplace to eat, we wandered along the main road looking for a cafe that we were told would be open. It wasn’t (later we found out that everything shut on a Monday) and Jacob through a moaning fit, which the two of us fell out over. His cheek is really getting to me, so I walked away, not allowing it to flare up.

The boys went back to the beach to play in the water and cover each other in mud. They set about making a beach hideout from the driftwood lying around. While I went to the Internet room to upload the Swoop video onto YouTube. It took me an hour, WordPress charge you a subscription for uploading videos so I opted for YouTube as the host and linked to it via Facebook.

By the time I got back to the beach, the boys were head to foot in mud. Michelle and I went to the dairy (store) to buy food, which turned into chops and tatties for Jacob and I. Aaron helped me to harvest a lemon from a local tree, he then cut the salad items up and garnished it with his lemon.

I wasn’t looking forward to the drive tomorrow as it would be a long one. Tomorrow was also going to be the last night in the camper for Michelle and Jacob. The plan was to get to Greymouth for them to get the Trans Scenic Train to Christchurch where they would stay until Saturday. Aaron and I were to continue South to Mount Cook and the Franz Jospeh Glacier and meet up with them later on in the week. Aaron is a good traveller and sitting in the front would help enormously. Michelle and Jacob had had enough of camping and wanted to relax in a more comfortable environment for the remainder of the trip. The adults also need peace badly, without the two boys fighting continually, the only way was to split them up, so we did. As Michelle quite rightly said, she wanted the last memories of this trip to be a happy one, where we were all happy to see each other, even if it was due to a premeditated absence.

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Posted: May 2, 2012 by johnwilkie in new zealand
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The morning was horrible. We had to be at the ferry terminal for 07:15, so we were up at 06:00 with the military precision shared only by Dads Army. The boys slumped out of bed in the top nest and landed in their seats and were belted up. The pulled blankets over their heads and went back to sleep. We got there in time and were soon swallowed by the massive mouth of the ship. Truly in the belly of the whale. The Interislander ferry is immense, with 10 decks to keep you busy throughout the 3hour and 15 minute journey, which is said to be one of the most spectacular crossings in the world.

The sun was glowing white hot after going through its red, orange, yellow phases as we pulled away from Wellington. There was still a large bulge of land to negotiate before heading out into open water, then the fjords of Marlborough Sound. As soon as we hit open water I found the recliners and promptly fell asleep, only to wake up a couple of hours later with only 30 or so minutes left of the voyage. I cursed Morpheus for allowing me to miss a classic journey and went to the viewing deck to salvage what I could of the trip.

Outside, on the Sound, was a hive of activity. There were other ferries and smaller vessels criss-crossing between the numerous archipelagos and islands. The sea was azure and the land emerald shades of perfection. I stood there for a long time taking it all in. Apparently I had missed dolphins and a whale sighting while I was ignorantly asleep, this just made me more annoyed.

Pretty soon Picton came into view and we disembarked quickly and efficiently. For some reason all my research into Picton had caused me to feel a little sorry for the little seaside port. Tourists seldom stopped there, eager to head South as quickly as possible, so I pulled up to have a quick look around and pay homage to this important but overlooked portal.

The town was very quaint and had a lazy feel to it. We walked along the wharf while the kids shot of to play on a wooden pirate ship. The small beach allowed the waves to lap gently on her thigh, the waves hardly broke and all was relaxed. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but we had a lot of miles to cover if we were to see any of the South.

Our destination was Abel Tasmin National Park, an area extremely popular with both tourists and locals. Compared with the other parks we had visited this one was tiny, but was said to be of unsurpassed beauty. It was named after the bloke who discovered New Zealand, though the details are now hazy. We planned to do some sea kayaking there and was Michelle’s choice of activity. We headed North, when all others seemed to be heading South.

The first spell of driving was easy, no more difficult than anything I had come across so far. It was the same rolling pastures, then rainforest, then back to flat pastureland again. However, that was all about to change as we began to climb Takaka Hill. The Road went mental, switchbacks, hairpins and other racing terms that I don’t know. What was worse that it was getting dark, the sky was bruising badly and I didn’t fancy doing this in the dark. My navigator was sitting in the back for some reason and shouting barely legible instructions at me. We eventually reached the summit where I came to the conclusion that the same person who designed the Swoop in Rotorua had also designed his road.

We crawled down the other side of the hill and I seriously considered emailing Top Gear about this road. Jeremy and the lads would love it here, but perhaps not in a campervan. We levelled out at the bottom of the hill (obviously) and I stupidly thought that would be the end of it, however, a lack of communication between the pilot and the navigator through up new problems and I got annoyed. Without a torch to read her maps, the navigator took making educated guesses, or so it seemed. We ended up driving around in circles.

Eventually we reached the Parakai Beach Top 10 Holiday Park and everyone settled down again. We are getting faster and better at cooling off after a row, even Aaron. Jacob simply throughs his cheek to the wind and waits to see where it lands most of the time.

I wasn’t up for doing much more than lying down and staring at the ceiling with my gob open and catching flies, so drained was I. I could hear the boys tearing about outside, set free from their restraints. We were only a few feet from the beach, we could hear the waves but couldn’t see them. I have always loved falling asleep to the sound of waves and I was soon riding the rhythm in my head.

The boys had bought torches and were playing at being FBI or something, bringing down a South African drug cartel or something….

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South Island, kayaking…

Posted: April 29, 2012 by michellecassidywilkie in new zealand

Dear Callie, Georgia, Darragh, Christopher, James and all friends…

We arrived in Picton from the ferry, which is a very picturesque little town with a lovely beach front, the journey over was pleasant, the sea calm and the sun shining!
I had even managed to write for a couple of hours!
Anyway, we headed to Abel Tasmin one of the national parks at the top of the island as a base to do some kayaking the next day as the campsite was at the beach. It took us forever! Up and down endless,winding mountain roads with no idea how far we had to go! We arrived in darkness eventually and the boys played outside on their scooters for a while, like I said before, it gets dark around 6 and there’s not much going on at that time. They bought torches from the little hardware store and had fun running down to a dark beach scaring each other. Our camper was almost on the beach and we could hear the sea even if, in the dark, we couldn’t see it ( without torches!)
Next day we got up early and headed off to do some kayaking, which was something I had always wanted to do. I used to have a mate, David who went sea kayaking and it always sounded cool. It was. Jacob came in the double one with me, him in the front and Aaron in the fronts of Jon’s. The sea was calm, the sun was shining. I loved it. There’s something quite different being on the water and being so close to it than being in a big ship, it was magic.
We paddled round some rocky islands close to the mainland and landed on a deserted beach ( now called Wilkie Island as the boys think they’re the first people ever to set foot on it!) Jon found a little cave to explore and I just sat in the peace and quiet whilst Aaron swam about and Jacob went to explore.
When I get back home I’m going kayaking, myself. Jon dissed Scotland saying it would be rubbish to do as ‘the weather is always bad’ but for those of us who love Scottish weather, we know that the sun will come out most days, eventually. I am a hopeless optimist of course, but then I like to be out and about in the weather, not stuck inside.
We went back to the campsite and the boys spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach with loads of driftwood making cool beach shelters, simple fun, hardly any arguing.
Jacob and I am looking forward to going to Christchurch, only one more day travelling (Tuesday) and then we go our separate ways for a few days.
We left Abel Tasmin on Tuesday morning and had a long day’s travel to Greymouth, but we stopped at some interesting places and the coastal road was quite stunning, with it’s strange pancake shaped rocks. I think Jon would still be there taking pictures, he felt right at home with the Japanese tourists as they all showed off with their big camera lenses.

We arrived in Greymouth ( yes it was dark again!) to spend our last night together in the van, and had dinner in a very nice local restaurant.
The next morning I went down to the beach as, again, the campsite was just beside it, and what did I find? Not hundreds of messages in a bottle, but thousand of pebbles! I know! Just my type of beach. Did I find it, the elusive holey stone?
I did! and when I get back I’m going to put it on a leather tie and wear it.
Will I be able to see anything magical through it on a full moon? You’ll have to wait and see, but I may never tell…

Jacob and I booked ourselves onto the scenic train and Jon and Aaron headed off to the glaciers and new adventures.
The train journey was lovely, scenery excellent, peace priceless! Knowing there was no one for Jacob to bicker with was such a relief and we had a good time together playing games on his iPod, trying to beat each other at ‘unblock me’ which is surprisingly enjoyable as is scrabble, although I don’t like playing against the machine as it always uses random words that no one knows the meaning of!
I had a few wee bottles of New Zealand wine and blethered to a lovely girl from Lewis of all places! We both agreed that New Zealand is gorgeous, but has nothing more to offer than home. People talk of ‘the quality of life’ being better here there and everywhere else and diss Scotland. It quite upsets me, I love Scotland. Sure, things could be improved, can’t they always. We should never stop improving things, especially ourselves, and I don’t mean in any materialistic sense. Our quality of life is what we make it. We have a beautiful country and it’s up to us to keep it that way, not the government or the councils or the schools or anyone else, and so with this thought in mind we headed into a candy floss pink sky covering Christchurch, it was like looking through rose coloured spectacles. ( of which I used to have a pair! )

We headed into the town in a taxi, but the few places recommended in the lonely planet guide had been knocked down in the earthquake last year, the one we found on the edge of the ‘red zone’ only had one single room left but recommended another motel down the road, and then we arrived in motel heaven! after a couple of weeks of campervanning we had an apartment to ourselves! Jacob was delighted with his adjoining room with plasma tv, comfortable bed and dining kitchenette, as I was with my king sized bed and shower room. It was like being in a brand new house and didn’t look as if anyone had ever stayed in that apartment, although Bruce and Sue, the lovely friendly owners said different.
We found Spag’s a little Italian restaurant and scooted back with some pizza,
yes, I’m glad we decided to come to Christchurch…wonder if the guys have arrived at the glacier yet…

More to come!

Bright Blessings,

M.x

Dear Callie,Georgia,Darragh,Christopher,James and all friends,

Last Friday we arrived in Wellington which is surprisingly hilly all around and after leaving the camper at a motel we jumped on a local bus to book the ferry for Sunday, early! It was an 8am sail, so we had to be there by 7am (!)
We decided to go straight to the Weta studios where they make the props for lots of films, but we went mainly to see The Lord of The Rings stuff as Aaron especially has a big interest. The stuff they had was great, but expensive and I spent some time talking to a lovely bearded ( Hobbit looking ) chap who works there, who told me that the price of gold plus the patent for the elvish inscription bumps up the price. I said to him, we could have brought our own gold ring and paid for the inscription, but either Weta haven’t thought of that or they just want to make loads of money from fans of the films ( I’m sure it’s the latter! ) anyway, Aaron decided to get the silver inscribed ‘One Ring’ because he’s just always wanted to get one, although I felt that he was being exploited and sad that he couldn’t get a gold one. The Hobbit looking beardy guy made a few good suggestions, buy a gold plated one from the Noble company (the ones who make Harry Potter wands, of which we have loads!) but which the inscription would fade after a while, or have the silver one gold plated by an engineering company. That’ll be Aaron’s call!

Anyway, we headed back into the city with our goodies ( Jacob had bought a steam punk designer gun! ) and wandered down to the waterfront which is lovely. Lots of people on skateboards and bikes and lots of interesting architecture the boy’s didn’t find the least bit interesting!
The next day ( Saturday ) we wandered into the town again and watched some cool/sick street theatre before heading up to Te Papa, the art gallery. Of course the boy’s were moaning about that before they went in that is, because we spent the rest of the afternoon there and we only covered one floor! Fascinating facts about the geology of New Zealand’s volcano’s and earthquakes, which is still a talking point wherever you go on the islands.

We met up later with a guy Jon knew from years back and who now lives in Wellington, Malky and spent the evening in a really cool restaurant/bar/hangout with good food and hoppy ale, good music and a pool table. Boys inevitably fought each other with pool cues and had to be supervised, it was amusing for the Kiwis, but their constant bickering and winding each other up was really becoming unbearable, so much so that I decided we should split up for some of the journey. We decided to travel to Abel Tasmin and do some kayaking when we arrived in the South island but after that Jacob and I would go to Christchurch as we were getting fed up in the camper van, neither of us being particularly good travellers in the back.
Aaron wanted to go with Jon to see the glaciers in the South, so that was sorted.
We left Wellington behind the next day ( Sunday ) as we sailed to the south and to pastures new!
To be continued…

Bright Blessings!

M.x

Posted: April 29, 2012 by michellecassidywilkie in new zealand
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